Seventy-nine steps, almost in the backyard. Leave your shoes at the bottom and, of an evening, you can climb from shade to sunshine, cool to warm, and feel it through the whole of you. God is mostly made of earth here – buckeyes and flower petals, prairie grass and leaves gone to tattered lace.
You don’t run those steps, do you?
At the top, a cemetery that won’t abide with sorrow. The bones here rest easy; they weep no more. Above them, a vault of sky, fading blue and smooth as porcelain. Here are massive oaks predating the ancestors of the longest dead, roots dug down to fiery core, bent arms outstretched, scooping sky.
I sprint, all the way to the top, fast as I can.
Not a spirit or a spook in sight. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and a soul flies onward, into the glaze of sun. Not looking back, not peering down. Transforming, remaking itself from flesh and bone, he/she/black/white/straight/gay into layers and layers of light and love. Imagine.
It’s easy, actually, in this place.
You’ll turn an ankle, bruise a shin, roll to the bottom, fall down and break your crown.
Kids play here. It’s close to town, after all, and do they dishonor the dead with their laughter? The gargantuan trees are made for Hide-and-Seek, the buckeyes for tossing, the headstones for shivers and shrieks; it’s good to be so alive in a cemetery.
At the top, I fling myself down, breathless with the rush, and the earth is sun-warm beneath me, grass like flannel, sky like cotton and just me, rolled up in the in-between.
Dragon and Damsel Flies dart, sleek wings glistening in the long shadows, and the early fireflies begin a dance between the gravestones. A blink at Filbert Hodgepodge, and a flit past Eunice Whosit, catch-me-if-you-can.
I can. I can cup the light in my hands just to see the magic.
The old stones rear their heads against the pink and lemon light – arches and towers, capped like acorns, like turbans. Mossy, ancient, the names worn beyond legible. Carved hands, carved roses, fat cherubs and lambs resting over “Our Darling Babe”s. Nobody there, nobody home, and that is more comfort than sorrow. There’s no rest in the ground, and maybe there is no rest at all, because dead isn’t dead, not really, but a state of life more alive than ever before. Imagine being nowhere and everywhere, all and nothing and all made up of light.
Is that death?
Over here. Grandparents under heart-shaped stones, a lost little baby named for a flower, Joseph Henry who came here first, back when corn was planted in check rows and picked by hand. They’re not here but they’re not gone either and, like the precious blood and body, that is only possible if you believe it so.
Why if we believe, do we even call it death?
“Death” better fits a darkness of the soul, does it not? A twist, a grudge, a hatred-blackness-despair. But . . . not this. Not this light, this easy peace, this jubilant rush to God.
Seventy-nine steps, from evening to night, sunshine to stars. Back again, running.
Isn’t he magnificent?
Where I live, you don’t see many long-horn cattle. This herd lives along the road we take to get “to town” and I’ve played hell avoiding them for about ten months now.
There’s a story here, and it has more to do with elusion than livestock.
My dad loved cattle. No matter how many we had on the farm, they were more pets than hamburger, and Dad fell ill about the same time this magnificent herd moved in up the hill. We passed them on the way to the hospital on his last trip there, and I slowed so he could see them. Mind you, my father had farmed all his life; he’d seen cattle. That, and he was weak and sick. But he pretended delight because his child so needed him to, and I felt, that day, such a bruise spreading on my soul, I didn’t believe I could ever recover.
Here’s another one.
A girl I didn’t know at all once held my hand as she died. We’d rolled up on that car accident - as we do, in our shiny rig – to save the day, and we didn’t get it done. That’s all. These things happen in our line of work. But that girl had a tangle of glorious dark hair just like my daughter’s and she wanted to live, and I lied to her when I said, “We’ll get you out of here. You’ll be okay.”
Ah, another bruise; a fearsome, horrible one. I will tell you - sometimes that girl still appears from nowhere to whack me over the head with the certain knowledge of my own stifling limitations.
So much is said about PTSD these days! And without belittling that status, might I suggest that almost everyone you meet is carting around a load of soul trauma? And the tricky thing about that condition is, it’s quiet. The soul walks its path with God but no one else. And if you don’t have God, you walk it alone. But you don’t talk about it much.
No one can see the size of the bruise or gauge the level of pain. The causes are so many and so varied that you can’t begin to guess the method of injury. But this isn’t a nice neat fracture to be iced and elevated; often it’s a gaping wound. Invisible to the naked eye, but so painful the victim is in danger of . .
Of what? Despair. Darkness. The utter inability to see . . . a blue sky. To hear a favorite song, to smell a dandelion. To feel love.
Ah, is there a point to all this?
Only this –it would be so good if we could be gentle with each other always. If we could try to help each other back from that dark ledge. You don’t know what trauma the soul sitting next to you has suffered or is suffering now.
That, and this – remember, if you’re bleeding, how your soul gets to go on. Whether you want it to or not. Your heart can break for good; I do believe that. But this thing we call soul remembers where it came from.
And sometimes it can even bring little pieces of that other place here. Compassion, laughter. Love.
People, if we have each other we can all be all right.
Have a beautiful August! Walk in the sunshine a lot!
In Celtic mythology, the ash tree – Uinsinn, pronounced ooshin - is The Tree of Life. It’s said to have roots equal in length and spread to its branches. Imagine, then, all that’s happening beneath the surface – the pull of opposites, each side reaching, stretching just as far as it can. From their struggle? A magnificent creation of beauty and light.
Ancient folklore noted the balance of three in this scenario - branches representing the gods, the trunk linked to humanity, roots entrenched in the underworld. Thus, “Everything is connected, and no action taken without widespread consequences.” It’s good to think about that in a world gone crazy. How the even the smallest acts born of ignorance or fear can begin to poison the whole. Yet, ipso facto, the opposite holds true. A loving act at the roots will strengthen the entire tree.
What if human beings were to think as trees?
Witch lore credited the ash with magical properties and witches made tea from the bark to attract their true love. They burned ash wood for prosperity, slept with the leaves under their pillows to woo prophetic dreams, and carved broomsticks from the branches.
Saint Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland with an ash branch and Irish emigrants to America brought pieces of ash with them as a charm against drowning
Ah, to remember our magic? What we could do!
In British folklore, the ash was credited with a range of healing properties, mostly to do with pediatric health. Newborn babies were given a teaspoon of ash sap, and ailing children were passed naked through a cleft carved in the tree. Afterwards, the cleft was bound together to heal over as the child also healed.
Imagine, in a world bereft of healers, having that gift at your fingertips, in your heart. Imagine the faith it takes to open yourself and bind other’s wounds.
And yet, here, in the midst of the lunacy we call life, is the tree. It’s no mistake that green is color of the heart chakra, which represents love, forgiveness, compassion, hope – and neither is it hard to believe that God created the tree a few days ahead of mankind.
Maybe someday we’ll catch up.
“I heard the sound of thunder. It roared out a warning. Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world.”
Watch the rain from the shelter of your porch with your back yard gone to glittering emerald and, with nothing else to do, think about the blue-eyed son in Bob Dylan’s song and how, if you could access your earliest memory, it would be one of blissful floating.
And even now, even if this deluge should end, you might seek water. Maybe a dappled green pond where the minnows kiss the surface and the frogs swim their version of Potter’s ballet. Where if you stare into the murky depths long enough you, might scry tomorrow in the clouds above-below-in-the-water.
Or a laughing creek, chill mud between the toes, cottonmouths, like flood debris, bouncing with the current, their eyes unblinking and their fangs terrifying. You’re a gypsy or a pirate or any other sort of free spirit who doesn’t wear shoes or pay a cable bill. A lost child in the mermaid lagoon, a freebooter on the Black Pearl’s deck, except for that, of course, you need . . .
An ocean. Endless beckoning of blue, a thousand shades blending and shimmering and dancing all the way to the horizon. Tidewaters like a heartbeat, whoosh and pull never-ever ending, and how could you ever see it and doubt that water is, must be, our very life blood?
Bathe in it, baptize with it, quench your thirst and cool your brow. Die without it.
Watch the rain, the ceaseless, slanting, glittering fall, and try not to think about drowning. ‘What did you see, my blue-eyed son? Oh what did you see, my darling young one?’
Think about the way Noah sailed for forty days and nights and hasn’t it been raining that long now?
Think about tarot and how the cups are the most uplifting cards in the deck; and cups, after all, have everything to do with water. Cups filled to overflowing, cups raised in celebration, cups pressed to waiting lips. Half-empty is only a trick of the light, a misperception, and these showers are only a temporary hitch; maybe, months from now, rain will seem a blessing again.
Watch and think, think and watch. Let the rain tattoo a song into your heart. Tie a ribbon around it and stash it in your ‘dry tomorrow’ folder, where today seems a lifetime ago.
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